Want to know where I get all my business savvy? I read, a lot. In fact, I bang out at least a book each week. Not all of them are business related but most of them are.
You’ll find every business book I’ve ever read below.
For a book to make it on this list, I read it cover-to-cover. No skimming, skipping, or scanning allowed. You’ll find the book I just finished at the top.
If you’d like to know what I know, start here.
Value: The Four Cornerstones of Corporate Finance
Good intro to key finance topics but I found the book to be fairly shallow, I was hoping for a lot more depth. A couple of good take-aways that still made it worth the time though.
Take Liar’s Poker, set it in Russia, add several financial fights with Russian oligarchs, and finish with a dash of Putin. This story is incredible, it absolutely does justice to the number of times that it was recommended to me. Read it.
King of Capital
An excellent follow-up to Barbarians at the Gate, continuing the history of private equity from the late 1980’s to about 2010. The book focuses on the story of Blackstone, one of the largest private equity firms that was started during that period.
This book has fundamentally changed how I look at the back-end of businesses for marketing. If you’re involved with an ecommerce, catalogue, or retail business, you absolutely need to read this book. The old database and catalogue marketers have a very specific view of for how they handle segmentation, I’ve come across very few folks online that have applied these same lessons. I wish I had read this book 3 years ago.
Barbarians at the Gate
The incredible story of the buyout of RJR Nabisco, that largest LBO of the 1980s. Highly recommended.
Team of Rivals
Unlike other Lincoln biographies, the book tells the story of Lincoln and three members of his cabinet. Lots of lessons on how Lincoln shaped and led his cabinet. Highly recommended if you’re into biographies.
2018 – 51 Total
Investing for Adults
It’s incredibly hard to find advanced investing and personal finance books. Lots of stuff for beginners, very few books once you fee comfortable for the basics. This series of books (there are 4) covers that gap nicely. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a book evolve my thinking on investing. Highly recommended.
The Perfect Pass
Incredible book on the evolution of football and how a coach built a contrarian career, going against all the established norms of football coaching. If you feel like you’re constantly going against the grain with your business or your career, I highly recommend this book.
How to Measure Anything
Got a few good tips on how to treat measurements, particularly when things are highly uncertain. If your day-to-day is heavily involved with data and projections, I’d grab it. But for the typical manager or executive, I’d skip it.
The biography of John D. Rockefeller. If you’re into business biographies, this is a must-read.
The Coaching Habit
There’s a fantastic series of questions on how to help coach your team and employees here. That alone is worth reading the book for. Even as a short read, it’s still drawn out too much. Could have been a blog post. That said, pick it up anyway if you’re a manager.
Affiliate Program Management
Pretty dated at this point. There’s a few good tactics on affiliate programs but a lot of fluff along the way. Unless you’re doing affiliate programs full-time, I’d skip.
Mastering the Market Cycle
I really wanted to like this book. And Howard Marks’ first book, The Most Important Thing, is one of my favorite investment books. But this book of his was extremely repetitive and didn’t provide anything new. If you’re a beginner in investing, it’s a good book to grab. Otherwise, I’d skip.
Not many books fundamentally change how I think at a core level, this one did. Short and jam-packed with tons of insights on how to think more effectively. Highly recommended for everyone.
The Book in a Box Method
A few good tactics on how to write a book more effectively. Most folks can skip it though, it focuses on an atypical method of writing books that I’m not sure is ideal for most.
A complete waste of time. The insights on SaaS and subscription are typical best-practices that sounds good but clearly have no grounding in real experience. Skip it.
Lots of good tips on speaking. If you do talks, definitely read it. I wouldn’t consider it the authoritative guide on speaking though, it could have been pushed further.
The Hero and the Outlaw
Really disliked this book. It reads like a English master’s thesis that has been stretched into a guide on branding. Most of the categorizations and lessons are a stretch, I took the whole book with a grain of salt. IF you do lots of branding work, the archetypes will give you some inspiration but that’s it.
The first two thirds of the book is one of those business fables, this one falls flat. Didn’t get anything from it myself. However, the last third of the book is the most concise yet thorough guide on OKR’s that I’ve seen yet. It’s absolute gold. Every startup manager, executive, and CEO should read that section.
Think and Grow Rich
I do not understand why this book is considered a classic of personal finance and self-development. There’s a few good mindset and habit tips in the beginning and then it goes off the rails. The tangents are terrible and a lot of the advice is ridiculous, especially in the second half. I’d skip it.
Reality in Advertising
Probably the best summary of marketing that I’ve ever read, I don’t know why this book isn’t more popular. If you want to get up to speed on marketing, start here. It’s an older book but every page is just as relevant today. Highly recommended.
User Story Mapping
Really liked the approach to mapping out the entire product flow and categorizing it. Some good tactics on product management too. But it had a ton of fluff throughout the book, could have been much shorter. And the attempts at having a personal voice really fell flat, made it a chore to finish.
Highly recommended for everyone. I know Buffet gets a ton of credit and hype. In this case, the biography lived up to it. If you’re a founder or executive, this is required reading without a doubt.
Devil Take the Hindmost
A historical recap of the major financial crises over the last few centuries. Worth a read if you’re really into investing. Otherwise, you’ll find it a bit dry.
The ridiculous story of Theranos. Every dark aspect of Silicon Valley was wrapped up and compressed into this single company. At least in my experience, I haven’t come close to seeing anything like this first-hand, thankfully. Not sure that you’ll learn anything substantive on business with this book but it is a page-turner. You won’t be able to put it down.
Tons of insights into what it took to build Disney and how many times it nearly went bankrupt. With how successful Disney has become, there’s so much of it’s past that doesn’t get talked about. If you’re reading biographies, definitely grab this one.
What Really Matters
A lesser-known book by one of the CEO’s of Procter & Gamble. For the first third, I got a lot of value out of it. Great stories on what it takes to manage world-class consumer brands and good high-level lessons for what to focus on. But the second two-thirds of the book was just a bunch of platitudes and offered no value. I’d definitely read part one of the book if you’re in B2C and then skip the rest.
The Membership Economy
A perfect example of the lowest tier of business book. A superficial take on a hot topic (subscription business models) without any depth of understanding on that topic. At best, the advice is a waste of time. At worst, the advise will actually hurt your business. Skip it.
Measure What Matters
John Doerr is one of the most well-respected VCs in tech. He share’s number of stories on Intel that I hadn’t heard before and lots of practical advise on how to use OKRs. A good read if you’re building teams.
The Big Short
Exceptional story on the 2008 financial crises. Like the rest of Michael Lewis’ books, riveting the whole way through. The movie follows the book pretty closely so no need to watch/read both.
I’ve followed Scott Brinker for awhile and there’s a bunch of solid stuff on his blog. Unfortunately, his book is a basic overview of agile and online methodologies. It doesn’t contribute anything new to either field. Skip it.
The Richest Man in Babylon
One of the classics in personal finance. The key message of the book is “pay yourself first” which is a game-changing step for everyone. But there isn’t much else in the book beyond that first insight.
Our Iceberg is Melting
One of those “fable” business books. Kotter’s work came highly recommended to me but I didn’t get much out of this book, maybe one of his other books will resonate more. Skip it.
Competing Against Luck
I was expecting a thorough breakdown of the Jobs to Be Done theory. While it gives a good overview, there’s very little on application or how to actually use the theory on your own. Your time is better spent reading a few blog posts on Jobs to Be Done instead of reading this book.
Blue Ocean Shift
A great companion book to Blue Ocean Strategy. While Blue Ocean Strategy gives you the breakdown of the theory, Blue Ocean Shift gives you the step-by-step playbook on how to apply the framework with your team. If you’ve been thinking of using this process, I highly recommend you follow the steps outlined in this book.
I expected a lot more from this book on the process for creating a new category. There’s a few good anecdotes and idea but I wouldn’t consider this to be a required process that everyone should follow. You won’t miss much if you skip it.
You are a Badass at Making Money
Didn’t do anything for me but I understand why it’s become so popular. Unlike most personal finance books, it focuses on the emotional side of money. If you abhor “self-development” type books and prefer concrete material, skip it.
If you’re interested in the biographies of tycoons and legendary figures in business, you’ll enjoy it. That said, it is extremely detailed and exhaustive at times.
I saw several people recommend this book as the single best book for a CEO. And I have to agree, it’s phenomenal. It gave me a much better appreciation for how to think about the CEO’s role and where to focus at a strategic level.
A waste of time. Weak on specifics and doesn’t give anything to execute on. It’s a book of random ideas and thoughts on taxes. Skip it.
An overview of how they teach strategy at Harvard’s Entrepreneur, Owner, President program (I think the name of the program changed since the book was published). It’s an executive education program that spans multiple years. I found it useful to see how they think about strategy and explain the concepts. While I wouldn’t consider this book a classic of strategy, I do recommend reading it. There aren’t any groundbreaking concepts but it does help cement strategic concepts a bit more.
Great at Work
I don’t disagree with any of the principles outlined in this book, I just didn’t find any of them novel. If you’re a top performer, you’re already doing everything outlined here. If your peers are moving faster than you and you’re not sure why, this book will show you which habits to focus on.
Never Split the Difference
My new favorite book on negotiation. If you only read one negotiation book, make sure it’s this one.
Competitive moats or barriers are a hot topic for any strategic analysis. But there’s not in the much of frameworks that really help you analyze your options. This book fills that void, I absolutely loved it. If you’re building a company or on the executive team, this is required reading.
The One Thing
The first half of this book recaps most of the productivity advice that’s become best practice in the last few years. And the second half of the book is a complete waste of time. I don’t know why this book is so popular, I didn’t get anything from it.
Skin in the Game
I thoroughly enjoyed Nassim Taleb’s previous books, I loved The Black Swan and Antifragile. But this book didn’t do anything for me. There were too many tangents this time around without a unifying theme that brings it all together. Instead of going deep on a particular topic, Taleb strung his rants together and kicked them out the door as a book. And if you’ve read his previous books, you won’t find anything novel in this one. I’d skip it.
Your Money and Your Brain
A broad summary of experiments from behavioral psychology along with brief connections on how they apply to investing. If you haven’t done any reading yet on behavioral psychology, it’s a good overview. But if you have, it’ll be mostly review and isn’t worth your time.
Netflix has gained a legendary status for their culture and operations which were developed by Patty McCord. This is her book and gives a great perspective on how she thinks. It did leave me wanting more, I wish it went into more depth. Still a great book, highly recommended if you’re building an organization.
A great overview of everything you need to be doing to manage your organization at an executive level. Covers all the essentials, frameworks are the right balance between depth and simplicity, and you’ll have plenty of concrete actions to start working on. Required reading for every CEO and executive.
Value Proposition Design
I loathed this book. Maybe the landscape and illustration heavy business book just irk me but I got absolutely zero value out of this book. The frameworks are basic, lack elegance, and there’s little explanation in the book. My team spends an immense amount of time working through positioning and value props for our products but I didn’t take away a single useful item to apply on my team. Skip it.
Lots of good stuff in this book from Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund in existence: Bridgewater. The majority of the book is basically an outline of Ray Dalio’s principles. And they do get dry at times. Still lots of great take-aways and I found it helpful to see what Ray Dalio worries about and what he doesn’t.
The Art of Community
Solid book on how to build a genuine community. Highly recommended if you manage a community or are looking to build one for the first time. Great principles with clear writing.
Horrible book. It’s a complete rehash of well-known best practices but also advocates for a number of items that are completely wrong. Frameworks are also convoluted at times. No value, skip it.
The First Tycoon
Really excellent biography on Cornelius Vanderbilt, the steamship and railroad tycoon. Highly recommended.
The Automatic Millionaire
Lots of solid advice on personal finance, very similar to I Will Teach You To Be Rich. The main difference is that Automatic Millionaire is much more bullish on real-estate which I disagree with.
2017 – 43 Total
The New One Minute Manager
A quick overview of how to quickly and reliable accomplish three managerial tasks: setting goals, praising, and re-directs (constructive feedback). Things like this always seem like common sense but few managers do them consistently or at high-quality. They’re easy formulas to follow and they work. If you’re a manager, definitely grab it.
I really really wanted to like this book but I ended up completely hating it. I know Kevin Kelly has an outstanding reputation but I just couldn’t find any value in this book. He makes so many predictions about the future that he’s bound to be right about a few of them through the sheer volume of his predictions. And I couldn’t stand the writing either, way too many tangents with a tendency to over-explain everything. I didn’t get any value out of it.
The Four Tendencies
I’ve found Gretchen Rubin’s framework on how people respond to expectations differently to be very valuable. Not only did it give me a deeper understanding of myself, it gave me a lot of clarity on why people respond to expectations differently on a team. I definitely recommend it if you’re managing a team. I only have two criticisms of the book. First, the framework gets overcomplicated a bit by trying to account for every variation of the four tendencies. If I understand it right, obliger-upholder is a slightly different set of people than upholder-obliger. Assuming I didn’t misinterpret that, that part of the framework is way too nuanced to be effective. I also wished she went into more detail on the different methods to set expectations correctly for each group.
Jack Welch gives his advice on a collection of management topics. There isn’t a framework that brings everything together, just his advice on different subjects. There’s plenty of great tips and is worth the read. On some sections, you’ll wish he went into more detail. And on some, you may disagree. But on the whole, solid book worth reading if you’re in management.
Has a solid premise about how to “bake” marketing into your product. Unfortunately the rules for how to do so are weak, half-thought, and in many cases completely pointless. Ski1p it.
Who Moved My Cheese?
One of those business-fable books that shows the importance of being able to change. Whole the book isn’t wrong, it’s also a pretty basic premise. No one’s going to disagree with the fact that we all need to be willing to change when the environment changes. But then we all go right back to doing what we were doing before. Not sure how effective this book is as genuine behavior change.
This is one of those books that has the power to change your life. It takes a conventional framework (accounting) and then flips it upside down in order to make it more manageable by real people. Most people struggle deeply with building a profitable business. They collect revenue and then spend whatever they have in the hopes that it grows their business. This rarely works and explains why most business-owners don’t have any profit left over. To fix this, you take profit out of the business first which forces you to manage your expenses in a direction that drives profit. A bit counter-intuitive but definitely supports our own psychology. If you are running your own business and don’t have a finance department to support you yet, I highly recommend this book.
Lots of good frameworks and tips for managing your team at the executive or leadership level. Lots of overlap with books like Scaling Up. If you’re not sure how to manage your company at a quarterly or annual cadence, I’d definitely grab it. Even if you already feel comfortable at that level, you’ll get a few nice scripts or tactics to polish your game a bit.
The Luxury Strategy
This is one of those rare books where I highlight multiple items on every single page. Lots of depth and eye-opening. The luxury model is fascinating and very counterintuitive from typical business models or marketing strategies. Even if you don’t have any role with luxury companies, you’ll still come away from this book with a much deeper appreciation of brand and the different models out there. Highly recommended.
The Millionaire Real Estate Investor
A pretty solid playbook on how to get into real estate investing. I’m not planning to myself but I did want to understand that world better. Did a great job at giving a step-by-step process on how to get started and build serious momentum over time. Also a realistic take, not a get-rich-quick book that glosses over the details. Following the process involves a ton of work.
A more condensed version of Tony Robbin’s previous book on personal finance: MONEY Master the Game. If you already read his previous book, skip this new one. And if you haven’t read either, read Unshakeable and skip MONEY.
The Value of Debt in Building Wealth
A few good insights on how to handle debt while you’re accumulating wealth. On the whole, I found the frameworks and steps overly complicated and unnecessary. The book was okay, his other book, The Value of Debt, is much better.
Built to Lead
Hated this book. Basically a list of generic management best practices that have been been exhausted by others already. Absolutely nothing new in this book. The voice of the writing also started to grate on my after awhile. Skip it.
The Gift of Fear
Super interesting take on how to handle really scary situations and people. There’s also a chapter on employees and guidance on how to handle situations that keep escalating.
Lots of great tips on how to improve your writing and the “invisible” side that makes amazing stories. It’ll also give you a stronger appreciation for stories and help you understand why you enjoy them so much. Highly recommended.
Highly recommended for everyone in tech. Not only does Jason Calacanis break down a pretty solid step-by-step process for becoming an angel, it’ll give you a great perspective on how the angel investing side of tech actually works. Definitely go read this.
Seeing Like a State
Some interesting case studies for how the desire to impose control at a state-level has created lots of unintentional consequences. But the author’s recommendation is a bit too binary for me. This is also a pretty dry book, I wouldn’t pick it up unless you’re really interested in political economy. And even if you are, there are much better books to read first.
Crossing the Chasm
I deeply regret not having read this book sooner. Really solid framework on growing a business past the initial batch of customers into a market leader. Definitely required reading if you’re in B2B and I still got a ton of insights out of it even from a B2C angle.
I have a lot of respect for Ryan Holiday but this book was terrible. The first half can be boiled down to “do the work” and the second half is just a bunch of generic marketing advice. Also, his qoute-heavy writing style is wearing thin. Huge sections of the book are just strings of pretty common business quotes without much extra value from Ryan himself. It’s shame too, I love the positioning of the book and Ryan is in a unique position to deliver on that promise. I’ve enjoyed some of his other books but I can’t recommend this one.
The Principles of Product Development Flow
By far the best book I’ve found yet on product development processes. Does an excellent job at connecting lean manufacturing, agile development, the theory of constraints, and the core principles that truly apply today. Highly recommended.
The Golden Theme
A couple of simple but incredibly important concepts to story telling and writing. Highly recommended.
You will come away from this book with a immense amount of respect for Elon Musk. A great story and a well-written biography, definitely grab it.
A very basic introduction to UX and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a book on strategy. Also plenty of worthless tangents throughout. Skip it.
Beyond the Cloud
Marc Benioff’s account of starting Salesforce. Absolutely essential readying if you’re in SaaS. I wish I had read this one a lot sooner.
An overview of what to expect as a product manager. Most of the advice is pretty generic, standard best practices for the most part. If you’re looking to get into product management, I’d read it as an introduction. Otherwise I’d skip it.
Talk Like Ted
A pretty generic set of best practices on how to deliver a better presentation. Be authentic, tell a story, use visuals, practice a lot, that sort of thing. Each “secret” then gets loosely supported with a series of pop-science anecdotes. All good tips but not a definitive source on how deliver an amazing talk.
A journalists summary of the tech industry in the 1980s. Very biased, weird tangents, and some horribly flawed analysis. No reason to read this whatsoever.
A very basic intro to SEO. If you’re a beginner, grab it. Otherwise it’s a waste of your time.
Using historical case studies, builds what seems to be a strong framework for how the environment can lead to a society’s collapse. Then it veers into a tirade on modern global warming and does a weak job at applying that same framework to today’s environmental concerns. Skip it.
The story of Motorola, the creation of Iridium (the company that launched the most advanced satellite network ever), it’s bankruptcy, and it’s revival. Not a story that gets told often enough in tech circles either, definitely read this.
Don’t Shoot the Dog
I wasn’t planning on including this book in this list, I thought it would just be practical tips on dog training. Instead, there’s a lot of great insights on training, motivation, and psychology that apply across all disciplines. If you do any coaching or management yourself, I highly recommend the book. The lessons apply just as much to people.
Definitely worth the read if you do much writing, a lot of great tips from Stephen King.
The Advertising Solution
A summary of frameworks from some of the greatest copywriters: Claude Hopkins, Robert Collier, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert, and Eugene Schwartz. The synthesis isn’t that great. If you’re looking for a quick intro on copywriting, it’ll do. But you’ll get a lot more value if you just go read each of their books.
A step-by-step framework for change management. It’s a good checklist so you don’t forget something critical. And if you’re having trouble successfully implementing your projects, I’d would recommend reading it to help diagnosis the roadblock. But it’s not groundbreaking.
An insightful critique on standard development policies that have bee prescribed over the last couple of decades. Also pairs well with How Asia Works. Highly recommended if you’re interested in economics and development policy.
5 Elements of Thinking
I feel pretty arrogant saying this but each of the 5 methods seemed very basic. And after a couple of weeks, I’ve already forgotten everything from the book. Didn’t get any value, I’d skip it.
Rich Dad Poor Dad
The fundamental concept, keeping expenses low and buying assets, is a strong principle. Also not an original concept either. And the rest of the book is fluff, didn’t get any particularly strong insights from it.
The Millionaire Fastlane
I have two main problems with this book. First, the author trashes the millionaire next door philosophy repeatedly. And for many people, it’s a very viable path to building wealth. Second, the author makes it seem much easier to build a $20K/month business than it is in realty. I know a lot of solo-prenuers, getting to $20K/month is no small feat. Doable? Yes. But more people fail than succeed here. Also, the advice on business and getting to $20K/month is generic trash. Completely useless.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit
Solid crash course on writing and how to tell a story, Steven Pressfield’s work is always solid.
The White Coat Investor
Was interested in how the medical community perceived personal finance. Mostly basic-level material. And the book doesn’t go into much depth on the specific recommendations. It’s a good intro for professionals that rack up a lot of student debt. If that’s not you, I’d skip it.
Hire with Your Head
One of the better books on hiring out there. I disagree with a few of the recommendations, I prefer to turn candidates away aggressively until I’m 100% confident that they’re a fit. I don’t mind false negatives. But there’s a lot of great tactics in the book and it’s a solid system for recruiting. It’s most certainly better than most recruiting programs.
Confessions of the Pricing Man
Most pricing books are garbage, all they give you is a series of pricing experiments that were done in a psychology lab or best practices that have supposedly been gospel for the last half a century. This book actually has some decent frameworks. While it does have regular tangents, it’s one of the better pricing books out there. Especially the breakdown on low, ultra-low, premium, and luxury pricing helped coalesce many strategic concepts for me. And there’s a number of tactics that have been obviously learned through years of working on pricing. Definitely recommended if you’re working on pricing.
Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go
Pretty much a waste of time. There’s a few good questions that’ll spur conversations with your direct reports. Otherwise, this book only gives you very basic advice. Skip it.
2016 – 48 Total
Built to Last
By far the best book I’ve found on company missions, visions, or values. There’s a lot of nonsense out there that really doesn’t help the leadership set the foundation of the company. Collins does an excellent job at distilling the these concepts into a practical set of frameworks that you’ll actually want to use at your company.
The Undoing Project
Psychology and economics were radically reoriented by Prospect Theory, the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Michael Lewis tells their story, how their partnership formed, their work, and how they eventually drifted a part. If you’re interested in behavioral psychology, I highly recommend you read this book (along with Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow). I wouldn’t consider this to be Lewis’ most gripping read so if you’re not already interested in the topic, you’ll probably find it a bit dry.
Basically, you’ll get some survey templates and then a funnel structure you can build off of them for an info-product. The info-product funnel isn’t as strong as it could be and the surveys aren’t either. By trying to cover both categories, the book falls short on each. That said, I did pick up a few good survey tips, it was worth it for that.
I’m a huge proponent of simplicity on all projects. With my teams, I consistently push folks to de-scope. And with policies and systems, I find myself constantly recommending that we cut non-essential items. Complexity and exceptions quickly cascade throughout an organization to cause all sorts of unintended problems. I always get joy from a simple, elegant solution that accomplishes the goal without any excess. Lots of good tips in this book for how to think through simplicity and apply it in your own org.
A recounting of some of the more popular activist shareholder stories. Worth a read if you’re interested in seeing how public companies can be taken over.
The Fish that Ate The Whale
A fascinating biography of Samuel Zemurray who started a banana company by selling bananas everyone else was throwing away, built his company into a key competitor, sold his company to United Fruit (the largest banana company at the time), and then took control of United Fruit by getting enough proxy votes to control the board. An amazing story. Be warned, the first few chapters meander quite a bit but it picks up quickly.
One of my favorite new management books that I’ve started to recommend to everyone I know. If you’re in a management role, your work is no longer about you, it’s about your team. And a lot of managers never learn how to nurture and growth the folks beneath them. And if you don’t, you’ll find a hard limit on how far you’ll progress in your career. I highly recommend this book to anyone in a management role.
Team of Teams
Worth your time if you’re in a management role. General Stanley McChrystal led a complete overall of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004. His impact was impressive, the entire organization improved by several orders of magnitude and this book outlines the core lessons he took away during that period.
The new book from Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence. Influence is on just about every recommended book list for business, psychology, or marketing. And I was hoping for another classic with Pre-suasion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good and you’ll have lots of ideas for persuasive tactics that you can try. But I wouldn’t say that it changes the game like Influence has.
I highly recommend you read this auto-biography from the founder of Nike, Phil Knight. The origin story is amazing and Nike barely scraped by on a number of occasions. Definitely worth your time.
The Charisma Myth
I was hoping for a lot more from this book. There’s a couple of good, tactical types but most of the advice is “think positive thoughts”. Definitely not the authoritative book on the subject of charisma that I was looking for.
5 Levels of Leadership
For any new leader, it constantly feels like you’re drowning. How am I supposed to lead a team? What does it actually mean to be a boss? How do I think of the growth in my role and what should I be focusing on? Even worse, most books on leadership are a complete waste of time. There’s very few frameworks out there that are both useful and groundbreaking. This book does exactly that. It’s the map you need as a new leader, it’ll tell you exactly how to think about your role, how to inspire your team, and guides you through the madness. I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough and I now hand it to any new manager on my team.
The Lords of Strategy
This book details the history and origin story of several of the main consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, etc) along with the evolutions of core strategic frameworks. Definitely recommended for the back-story on how many of the institutions were developed. The book does weaken at the end, there’s very little on how anything evolved after 2000.
Jeff Walker is one of the legends in the info-product space. And the most popular “launch” model is his funnel, I see it all the time. If you’re just getting into info-products, you should pick up this book and learn his approach. There’s better funnels out there but it’s a great way to get started.
Ego Is the Enemy
Good anecdotes on how to avoid letting your ego impede your progress and happiness. But not as good as Ryan Holiday’s last book, the Obstacle Is the Way. Ego Is the Enemy lacks a framework or set of steps to follow when things get overwhelming and your ego is pushing you in the wrong direction. You’ll finish the book with this take-away: don’t let your ego take control.
The Obstacle Is the Way
Solid book on overcoming challenges. No matter how overwhelming, every challenge can be broken down into 3 steps: see things for what they are, do what needs to be done, accept the outcome and endure whatever comes. While it sounds simple, none of us adhere to these steps perfectly. No matter how difficult something becomes, there is always a path forward. Always. Highly recommended.
The Incredible Shrinking Alpha
This is a pretty short book that covers the main reasons why it’s becoming more and more difficult to achieve alpha and beat their benchmark. A decent book on investing but nothing ground-breaking.
Winning With Data
I had high hopes for this book. Not only do I have a ton of respect for Tomasz Tunguz, his blog consistently has great insights. But this book fell way short. It starts strong by accurately describing the problem that every organization goes through attempting to wrangle their data as they grow. Unfortunately, the rest of the book and solutions are pretty weak. Nothing beyond some vague platitudes like “hire data-driven people” or “do internal data workshops.” Even worse, the book starts to feel like a pitch for Looker, one of Tunguz’s investments. I’m sure it’s a great tool and I don’t have any problem with it getting a plug. But I still don’t know what separates it from other BI or analytics tools after reading the book. Even as a case study for Looker, the book fails to deliver. Nor do I understand the core principles that should be used as inspiration in other tools or data infrastructures. Skip the book, it’s not worth your time.
Getting to Yes
This is one of the most popular and highly recommended books on negotiation. You need to read it. The further you progress in your career, the more time you’ll spend negotiating. Project approvals, priorities for employees, agreements with other teams and managers, external partnerships, it’s constant negotiation. In particular, Getting to Yes resonated with my style of empathy and seeing each issue from the other side when trying to get to an agreement. It’s not a book of hardball tactics or persuasion hacks, it’s a straightforward framework on how to guide all parties to an agreement that everyone is excited about. It’s a classic and required reading.
UX for Lean Startups
Lots of solid tactics and advice for how to put together mockups and prototypes in order to get feedback. A good but not great book.
Lean Customer Development
Some good tips on doing customer development. Definitely worth a read if you’re learning how to do this for the first time. But I wouldn’t consider it a classic.
Not worth reading. There’s a couple of good tips on setting up pricing interviews but the majority of the book is generic best practices and fluff. Skip it.
Russell Brunson is one of the up-and-coming info-product marketers. And his book is solid. Lots of great funnels, tactics, and a reliable strategy to build your own business. If you want to know how many of the experts run their funnels, this is a great place to start.
A book that should never have gone beyond a blog post. The framework is simple enough that the subtitle explains everything you need to know: make projects fast, inexpensive, restrained, and elegant. Then good things will happen. While it’s definitely a good idea, the book doesn’t have any additional depth beyond this. And the writing it atrocious, lots of tangents and constant failed attempts at humor. Skip it.
A book on scrum from the guy that created it. Everyone in management or project management should read this book.
I’ve seen this book come up as a recommendation so often that I figured it had to be amazing. I was wrong. It champions the philosophy of focus and the book is anything but focused. It addresses the same topics in a dozen slightly different angles, has shallow recommendations, and doesn’t tell you anything that you haven’t already heard from a random Lifehacker article. Skip it.
You Can Be a Stock Market Genius
Several strategies along with specific examples for how to beat a market index. If that’s a goal of yours, definitely pick this book up as a source of inspiration. It was originally published in 1997 which makes me doubt whether or not any of these strategies still work. Every game (especially investing) evolves over time. So tread carefully.
How Brands Grow: Part 2
Mostly a summary of the first How Brands Grow book. There’s a few new topics but nothing as groundbreaking as the first volume. But given how important and counterintuitive that these concepts are, you’ll want to read both books multiple times to make sure it all sinks in. Definitely read it.
There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. If you manage a team or aspire to, you need to read this book. Each chapter breaks down a core leadership principle taught to Navy SEAL teams, a story of how the lesson was learned during combat operations in Iraq, and then applies the same lesson to a business context. Not only are these some of the most valuable lessons for you to learn, the stories make sure that you won’t forget them.
The Fifth Discipline
I deeply believe in building learning into the core culture of a company. The companies that learn the fastest, grow the fastest. This book dives into a many of the disciplines that you’ll need to build within your company in order to truly become a learning organization. Highly recommended.
If you’re a manager at any level, a key part of your role is being able to set solid goals for your team. I’ve worked with a lot of managers that couldn’t set effective goals, it consistency slows their teams down. This book will give you a much better understanding for how to set your own goals as well as setting goals for others.
How Asia Works
A very interesting dive into the different development policies of Asia and how their produced completely different outcomes. My biggest take-home point was how development policies need to change as economies mature. Many of the policies we take for granted in a modern economy can completely prohibit growth in a economy at an earlier stage. Be warned, this book goes into extreme detail, probably a bit too much. So only pick it up if you’re really interested in this sort of thing.
One of the better founder/CEO autobiographies, highly recommended. The Walmart story is a great one, I came away with a much deeper respect for the company after reading this book.
The Weekly Coaching Conversation
A few good tips on how to develop a coaching habit with your team but I didn’t radically change anything that I’m doing after having finished the book. Might be more useful to you if you don’t easily adopt a coaching presence with your team.
I’ve been fascinated by the concept of grit and the role it plays into success ever sense I heard about the West Point study that discovered it was by far the highest predictor of success for cadets. And while this is a good book that covers the concept well, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as I was hoping for. It’s a good book, not sure if it’s a great book.
Against the Gods
The history of probability. But there’s a lot of tangents and superfluous detail throughout the entire book. You can safely skip this one.
A solid framework on the main biases that impact our decisions. If you’ve read much behavior psychology, few of the insights will be new to you. But it’s still a good framework that ties it all together.
Many fields have a superboss that find, recruit, and develop a disproportionate amount of talent in the field. And many of the biggest names can trace their careers back to that superboss. Jon Stewart being an example for comedy talent. Unfortunately, the book is poorly written, lacks structure, and offers horrible advice on how to become a superboss yourself. Even though it starts with a great premise, it completely fails to deliver anything other than a couple of anecdotes on the topic. Skip it.
One of those books that represents the worst side of tech optimism. How will we grow? Viral loops! How will we scale? Contractors, don’t own anything! What features should we build? Algorithms! The authors have hand-picked various details from success stories in tech and attempt to combine them into a list of requirements for future “exponential organizations.” The problem is that they also ignore any nuance around the execution or circumstances needed to properly take advantage of these ideas. And you’ll get the sense that the authors have spent more time reading Techcrunch articles than actually building companies themselves. Maybe I’m being too harsh but I got absolutely no value from this book.
The Sales Acceleration Formula
What I would have given to have this book 3 years ago. Hubspot is the company that just about every other B2B SaaS company is now trying to emulate. They’ve built one of the most effective SaaS lead and sales funnels out there. The book breaks down exactly how the SVP of Sales at Hubspot built their sales function. If you are in B2B sales or marketing, you need to read this book.
The inside story of how the Third Golden Age of TV came to be. The majority of the book focuses on the Sopranos and The Wire, The Shield, Deadfall, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad are also covered. The book doesn’t frame it as such but it’s a classic Innovator’s Dilemma. TV audiences were being underserved by bland and generic shows, and a few networks with nothing to lose began experimenting with new formats which took off. HBO, FX, and AMC weren’t beholden to the original TV format and partnered with writers that wanted to push TV in an entirely new direction. We’ve been enjoying the wave ever since. IF you’re a fan of these shows and enjoy learning how industries shift, you’ll enjoy the read.
4 Disciplines of Execution
One of the best management books that I’ve read in awhile. Running the week-to-week cadence of a team is absolutely critical to hit your company’s goals. Yet very few managers have spent time to perfect the weekly habits of their team. I was already doing about half of what this book recommends and implementing the rest is now my top-priority. If you want to run a high-caliber team, read this book.
From Impossible to Inevitable
I had incredibly high hopes for this book. Aaron Ross’ previous book (Predictable Revenue) is legendary within B2B tech companies. It is THE playbook for building an inside sales team. I’m also a huge fan of Jason Lemkin and his work, his blog and Quora answers are some of the most helpful SaaS content out there. But to be honest, this book was a let-down. Instead of another deep-dive on the Marketing and Sales inside sales model, the second half of the book bounces between management and self-help. Even the first-half isn’t ground-breaking if you’ve been following Jason Lemkin for awhile. If you’re completely new to the B2B SaaS game, pick it up. Otherwise, skip it.
Common Sense on Mutual Funds
A classic book on investing, written by John Bogle (founder of Vanguard). This book does dive into the weeds, there’s an exhaustive amount of detail. I would only recommend this book if you’re looking to go through the classics yourself. The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing and A Random Walk Down Wall Street give better overviews on investing.
Brick by Brick
The story of LEGO’s near-collapse and how it cam back from the edge. The book attempts to derive lessons on the types of innovation that leads to record-setting growth whereas the wrong type of innovation leads to bankruptcy. However, it seems like many of the problems with LEGO had nothing to do with innovation or the type of innovation that the company was pursuing. Poor management, lacking financial controls, and rampant cost over-runs brought the company to the edge. This has nothing to do with innovation, it’s simply poor management. Granted, I have no personal connection to LEGO so I’m not qualified to answer why LEGO almost failed. But the author does seem to be looking for patterns that aren’t there. Worth reading if you want some background on this iconic toy company but I’d be careful about drawing too many lessons for your own company.
How Brands Grow
One of those books that convinces you that everything your know about marketing is wrong. You’ll never look at brands, marketing, or growth the same way after you read this book. Seriously, drop what you’re doing and read it.
The Success Equation
This book does an excellent job at compiling the best work that’s been done in psychology, systems, and probability. If you haven’t read 50+ books on these topics already, you’ll get up to speed pretty quickly. Even if you have, it’s a great review of the core concepts. Highly recommended.
Mining Group Gold
A deep dive on everything that you should be doing to run effective meetings. The author worked at Xerox and has spent the majority of his career managing corporate meetings. Like a lot of business books, it does a poor job at reducing the frameworks down to the essential items that you should prioritize. So you’ll need to wade through the endless tactics and strategies to find a couple of nuggets that will make a tangible difference on how you run your own teams. Also, it definitely has a corporate slant to it. Many of the recommendations are definitely overkill for a small or medium size business. But it’s still valuable to see which frameworks work best in an enterprise environment.
2015 – 46 Total
The Trusted Advisor
Some good tactics for building trust with clients. But it could have been reduced to a blog post. Not an essential read.
Michael Lewis’ first book that goes into the story of Salomon Brothers, the leading bond investment bank in the 1980s. Michael Lewis joined the company at their peak so this is an insider’s account of their rise and fall.
The New New Thing
The story of Jim Clark and how he built 3 succesfull tech companies: Silicon Graphics, Netscape, and Healtheon. If you’re in tech, you need to read this book.
The Most Important Thing
One of my favorite new investment books. If you want to push your investment returns beyond the aggregate returns of the market, this is where you want to start. There’s no “get rich quick” tactics and this is by no means easy. But the philosophies are sound. I’d avoid the “Illuminated” version that has extra anecdotes from other experts (here’s the normal version). The anecdotes don’t add any extra value and just interrupt the flow. Highly recommended.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
Another excellent book from Al Ries who also co-authored The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Both of these should be required reading for every marketer and executive. An updated version of this book also has 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. They’re pretty dated and don’t provide much value so feel free to skip that section.
One of my favorite Seth Godin books. Simple, short, and to the point. Anything worth doing will have a “dip” that you’ll have to push through. It’s the only way to be exceptional. Either decide it’s worth pushing through the dip to get to the other side before you start, or don’t even begin at all. Quitting in the dip means you’re not getting any benefit from whatever you start. But you also need to know when that dip is just a dead-end. You can only get so many projects through the dip so pick wisely and focus.
Getting Past No
An excellent book that breaks tough negotiating down into 5 key steps. Highly recommend for everyone.
The Effortless Experience
Everyone wants to “delight” customers and build a Zappos-like customer service team. But does this really provide a positive ROI? This book shows you why it doesn’t. The biggest returns from customer service come from being able to permanently solve problems by ensuring customers don’t have to call back about tangentially related issues (which is different from first-call resolution) and to make sure customers don’t have to jump between multiple channels or people in order to get their issue resolved. In other words, we don’t need to role out a VIP experience, we need to focus on solving problems quickly, permanently, and with the least amount of effort from customers. Investment in customer service beyond this point isn’t worth it. Lots of great tactics and frameworks that you’ll be able to apply to your own business.
The Everything Store
A solid look at the history behind Amazon. I don’t know any of the inside story so I have no idea if there’s major errors or not. But it seems pretty even-handed. Credit is given where it’s due and the critiques of Bezos and Amazon also seem reasonable. If you’re in tech, you should definitely read it.
No Man’s Land
I’m now on my second company that’s trying to go from 20 people to 100+. This book is spot on with how difficult this stage is. You’re way too big to operate like a small team. But you have none of the resources, processes, and culture to support a more complex operation. What’s even worse, you either get to the other side and build a stable, large company or you fail and have to cut back to a small team. This is exactly what I’ve seen myself. Not only is this stage super stressful for the entire team, you either make it or you have to pull back entirely. Very few managers and founders acknowledge how high the stakes are during this stage. Highly recommended if you’re involved with startups.
Content Marketing Playbook
I have a lot of respect for Sujan Patel but this feels like a length blog post or “Ultimate Guide” that was turned into an ebook to target Amazon search rankings. The content is very basic and a bit superficial. Skip it.
This is one of those armchair strategy books that give business books a bad name. The authors take three iconic leaders (Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Steve Jobs), attempt to simplify the key decisions of their respective companies, and then put together a set of frameworks that other founders and teams should abide by. The analysis is so bad that I stopped highlighting and taking notes halfway through the book. For example, they claim that the Apple Watch doesn’t adhere to their “platform over product” strategy. Since the Apple Watch is restricted to iPhone users, it’ll never achieve the success that it could if it was truly an open platform. The authors also frequently claim that Android won the smartphone market because it has more market share. So the Apple Watch should follow the Android example and pursue raw market share. Sure, Android has the largest user base but the vast majority of the smartphone profit share goes to Apple. And Apple has never pursued market share at the expense of profit. When the authors miss these obvious counterpoints, it’s pretty hard to take their frameworks seriously.
Talent is Overrated
One of the core books that pushes the 10,000 hour rule: it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become world-class in a given field. And even child “prodigies” aren’t really prodigies, they just started earlier. But he 10,000 hours have to be deliberate practice. This is challenging practice that demands your full concentration. If it feels easy or fun, it’s not deliberate practice. When people spend 10 years in a field and haven’t improved their skills, it’s because they weren’t doing deliberate practice. So make sure that you’re challenging yourself for 4-6 hours of each day if you want to keep growing as quickly as possible.
The Upside of Stress
Stress isn’t nearly as harmful as many of us believe. It’s actually the mindset that we have towards stress that causes problems. If we believe it’s harmful, it is. If not, we find ways to manage it without any measurable impact on health or longevity. Either way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s lots of great tips and tactics on better ways to approach stress in this book. Highly recommended if you’re regularly pushing your own limits.
Think Like a Freak
A few good tips. But if you’ve spent a bunch of time learning about behavioral psychology, persuasion, and mental models, you won’t find anything new with this book.
The Drunkard’s Walk
If you haven’t spent much time studying probability, this book is a good intro. Not much new ground though, I’d only pick it up the subject is new for you.
I had high hopes for this book. Google has a reputation for being an amazing place to work and I expected the inside story on how they managed to pull that off. Written by the Senior VP of People Operations, who better to tell it? There are some good anecdotes and principles but much of the book seems a bit superficial. Every problem comes to a clean and tidy resolution. Failures are glossed over, even with an entire chapter dedicated to them. The whole book feels like the PR-approved version instead of the real story on how to build a world-class support structure for your employees. And since the stories don’t feel completely authentic, the frameworks also feel like they’re missing key pieces of what it took to work through the unflattering failures. You’ll get a few tips from this book but it’s not groundbreaking.
The Mythical Man-Month
Still a classic. It’s a bit dated but there’s two critical concepts that you’ll learn from it. First, throwing bodies at projects doesn’t produce the increase in efficiency that you think it will. Onboarding overhead, and increased demands for communication mean that productivity does not increase linearly. Remember this when you’re trying to scale up resources for a project. Second, projects should be separated into implementation and architect functions. The architect owns the integrity of the project, making sure that everything fits into a cohesive whole. Since this is easily a full-time job, it needs to be separated from managing the day-to-day of implementation. I’ve worked on several projects where I wish we had done this.
The Soul of a New Machine
A detailed account on how a team at Data General built a new minicomupter in the 1970’s. An interesting read if you want to know more about the history of tech.
Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing
A solid intro that covers all the core areas of investing. It summarizes most of the key points and strategies from the community at bogleheads.org which is one of the most well-respected investing forums.
Agile Estimating and Planning
If you’re managing long-term product roadmaps, you need to read this book. It’s the most thorough discussion of agile planning that I’ve found. Most teams suffer severe product delays, last-minute crunches to ship anything, and grid-lock themselves into a corner. Don’t be that team. Make sure your product workflows are world-class, this book will help you get there.
If you’re new to the whole startup thing, use this book to get up to speed. It has a good overview on many of the core startup frameworks (lean, customer development, the pirate metrics, etc). But it doesn’t really add anything new if you’re already familiar with all this. I’d skip it unless you’re just beginning.
Lean from the Trenches
The best overview I’ve found on how to use kanban for tech work (most books out there focus on manufacturing). It has a great balance between going through the principles of kanban while also giving you plenty of tactical tips so you can implement it yourself. Also lots of great real-world examples. I’m quickly becoming a kanban devotee and this is the best intro book I’ve found so far. Highly recommended.
Triumph of the City
Supposedly, this is the book that inspired Tony Hsieh to rebuild downtown Las Vegas. Having lived in Las Vegas and seen the Downtown Project myself, I wanted to see what inspired the project. There’s plenty of solid expertise and research in this book, you won’t look at cities and suburbs that same way. But I would be careful with some of the policy prescriptions, the author gets pretty specific with recommendations in domains that he’s not nearly as familiar with (like education).
Some good ideas for running your own agile/scrum/kanaban systems but this book assumes you already have deep experience with these frameworks. It also doesn’t have the best structure, it jumps between topics pretty randomly. If you pick it up, expect a few tactical take-aways but don’t expect any frameworks that will reshape how you run your teams.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Building strong and effective teams is immensely difficult. Small differences in how teams operate day-to-day completely determine the potential of your business. And when you’re building a team yourself, how do you decide which behaviors and habits to instill in your team? You can’t expect everything so what are the few core traits you should focus on? This book tells you. It’s written as a narrative with an explanation of the framework at the end. I’d consider it required reading if you’re leading a team.
The Joy of X
A good review on many of the core concepts in math. Honestly, I was hoping for more from this book. There’s a few great insights but I wouldn’t say that I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty behind mathematics.
The Lessons of History
This book was recommended by Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater which is the largest hedge fund. I didn’t get much out of it. If you’ve had a solid liberal arts education, you won’t find anything in this book that groundbreaking.
Learn or Die
This book was a bit of a disappointment. It doesn’t introduce any unique research or frameworks, it’s mostly just a review of other research that’s already been done. It also stays at a pretty high and generic level, not much depth on any particular item. For example, it’ll tell you to hire people that like learning but won’t go into the best ways to do it. The book is still worth grabbing just for the chapter on Bridgewater (the largest hedge fund currently). Their internal processes and values are fascinating. But the rest of the book can be easily skipped.
The Robert Collier Letter Book
Lots of good examples of classic direct response sales letters. There isn’t much analysis though, so don’t expect any frameworks to improve your own copywriting. Treat it as an old-school swipe file. Also, don’t grab the Kindle version, the formatting is all messed up. Get a paperback copy.
MONEY Master the Game
The latest book from Tony Robbins. There’s lots of classic investment advice (avoid mutual funds, get your investment fees as low as possible, diversify, etc) that’s communicated in a really easy to understand way. But Tony jumps into a lot of advanced topics without a thorough breakdown on those exact recommendations. Complicated annuities and the all weather portfolio being two examples. He makes a lot of lofty promises like having income for life and beating the S&P 500 without any extra risk. But some googling brings up a lot of nuance and counter-points to these strategies that Tony never fully addressed.
The Score Takes Care of Itself
Not a ton of depth with this one. Granted, Bill Walsh’s achievements are amazing. Taking the San Francisco 49ers from the worst team in the NFL to Superbowl Champions in 3 seasons is no small feat. The book is a series of short chapters, each describes one of Walsh’s leadership lessons and has a few stories to go with it. A good read but not as ground-breaking as I was hoping for.
The High-Velocity Edge
Copying strategies and tactics will always leave you a step behind. By the time you’ve implemented them, the leaders in your space will have already found new ones. Do you want to be a leader or do you always want to be a step behind? The High Velocity Edge breaks down the internal processes of what it takes to be a leader: making problems visible, high-speed iteration, spreading learning throughout your team, and developing your team as much as possible. High-speed iteration has become one of the tenets of my own management style.
The Value of Debt
I’m not going to lie, debt scares the hell out of me. I do whatever I can to avoid taking on even small amounts of debt. But this book makes a solid case for holding 15-35% of your net worth as debt. Most of the strategies in this book only apply to wealthy individuals ($1 million in assets and above), I still found it useful for learning how to use debt intelligently.
The Last Place on Earth
A fascinating account of the race to the South Pole. Even if you’re not typically into books on exploration, it’s still a great analysis on what it takes to build mastery. Two different teams attempted to reach the South Pole during the same season. One team made it look easy and came back without a single problem. The other team not only reached months after the first, they died on the way back. The book goes into the biographies of both expedition leaders (Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott) so you get a detailed understanding of how each leader differed. It’s an amazing case study on what happens to teams that build mastery compared to those that don’t.
This is my new favorite book on copywriting. A really solid framework on the best ways to open any copy and when you should be using each. I’d be shocked if you don’t see an immediate lift in your own copy after reading this book, I’ll be recommending it often.
Million Dollar Consulting
By far the best book I’ve read on building a boutique consulting practice. It’ll show you how to build a practice with massive profit margins (+90%), minimal headcount, and pushing into 7+ figures per year in revenue all while keeping control over your time. If you’re looking to build a massive agency, this isn’t the book for you. You definitely need to read this book if you do any consulting.
If you’re looking to dominate your field, read this book. Lots of great insights on what it actually takes to build mastery.
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger
This book gets recommended frequently as a great resource for improving your thinking. I personally thought it was a bit too simplistic. Also, the added context from the author doesn’t really add much, it would have been a better book if it simply reprinted the most popular Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters. If you haven’t already done a bunch of reading on psychology, biases, probability, and logic, you’ll likely get a few good insights out of the book. But I can’t recommend it as required reading.
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark
A fascinating book on how the high-end art industry works and the economics that drive it.
The Monk and Riddle
A good quick read from a veteran of Silicon Valley, Randy Komisar. It has a few god insights on what it takes to build a company from scratch. But the main point is to stop chasing money and work on a project/company that truly makes you happy. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. All good advice with good stories to illustrate key points.
The hierarchal organization might not be the most impactful approach to building companies. Even if you push decision making down the organization, you’ll still be bloated with overhead, bureaucracy, and processes that impede people’s ability to do great work. The book advocates for an anti-hierarchy (not flat either, a more organic and fluid structure). It’s also been called holacarcy which Zappos and Medium are currently implementing. I don’t have any first-hand experience with it so I can’t speak to how well it actually works. But it’s still an interesting approach you should know about if you’re building organizations yourself.
A very interesting perspective on reason, logic, and the scientific method. In a nutshell: old paradigms can’t truly evaluate new theories because new theories are held to previous standards. And attempting to separate facts from theories doesn’t work, it’s impossible to clearly define an isolated fact. Observations and facts are the function of theories and the current perspective. Instead science is far messier than most people believe. Persuasion, persistence, luck, and chaos are responsible for progress more often than objective reason. Also, progress can’t be limited to single set of procedures. Be warned, this book is pretty heavy and not for the feint of heart.
Scaling Up Excellence
Lots of good tips on how to spread change and high standards through an organization.
A horrible book. The worst part? It could have been so much more and has a decent premise: actions that we take stem from our desire to find suitable mates. So the majority of what we do is the result of us trying to single our own suitability to others. The problem is that the author applies this theory to every single action that has ever occurred. All of them. No exceptions. It’s all a result of signaling. Everything is nail for this single hammer. To make it even worse, the author goes into rants about irrelevant points, takes pot-shots at groups he doesn’t respect, and frequently makes grand claims without any supporting evidence. Skip it.
What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School
A collection of random tips on how to succeed in business. Even though it was written long before blogging, it’s one of the books that feels like a collection of blog posts crammed into a book. Not much depth, there’s plenty of better books out there.
2014 – 70 Total
A very thorough biography of Steve Jobs and well-written. I’ve heard that there were some inaccuracies but I didn’t have a first-hand account of any part of Steve’s or Apple’s story so I’m not in a position to verify one way or the other. Regardless, it’s still an key story of tech and Silicon Valley.
High Output Management
One of the best management books I’ve read with a great balance between strategy and tactics. Required reading for any team lead.
Turn the Ship Around!
Lots of great lessons on leadership and management. David Marquet took one of the worst performing submarines in the US Navy and turned it into one of their best within a year. He did it with the same crew, no prep time, and started when morale was at rock-bottom. Lots of great lessons for how to lead a team and one of my favorite management books.
The story of how high-frequency traders have stripped enormous profits from financial markets without adding any extra value. A fascinating read. If you need a final reason for why you shouldn’t day-trade, this is it.
The Time Paradox
People perceive time completely differently. You either focus on the future, the present, or the past. This completely changes how you go through life and the decisions you make. Some people constantly prepare for the future, others take every chance they have to enjoy the present, and some of us keep remembering the past. Each of us also tends to skew towards one perspective. Not only will this book help you understand why people make different choices than you would, it also helps you better understand how to lead a balanced life. So if you’re future-oriented (like I am), you need to deliberately spend time in the present without trying to prepare for anything in the future. Building regular traditions can also help snap you out of the future orientation and remember good times in the past. Highly recommended.
A solid into to the different channels that you can use for distribution. But it is very much an overview. There’s a tremendous amount of depth and nuance with each channel that is barely touched on.
Business Model Generation
A really basic intro on the basic components of any business model. It’s a decent framework for analyzing businesses but nothing groundbreaking.
The Checklist Manifesto
A great book on the power of checklists and systems. Use them.
Iacocca was responsible for many of the most successful cars at Ford like the Mustang. After a falling out with the Ford family, he was fired and then joined Chrysler which he saved from the edge of bankruptcy. Really fascinating story. He does go on a few tangents about politics but it’s still a solid book.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
A brilliant book about what it takes to be a CEO. Highly recommended.
You’ll find 9 strategies for accelerating progress in this book. They include things like training with masters, rabid feedback, catching waves, and 10x thinking. Each principle has a dedicated chapter with stories to help illustrate it. It’s a quick and entertaining read but lacks any real depth.
Certain to Win
John Boyd revolutionized the US Air Force and is considered by some to be the most influential military strategists since Sun Tzu or Clausewitz. This book reviews Boyd’s OODA loop and helps you apply it within a business setting. It’s one of the most important books on business strategy that I have yet to read.
This is one of those books that should have just been a blog post. Maybe 2-3 blog posts at the most. Not much depth and the book can really be summed up in a single sentence: life-time employment is dead and employers should form an “alliance” with employees while giving them a tour of duty that lasts 2-3 years. There’s a bit more detail than that but not much.
Zero to One
A short book full of great insights on what it takes to build a great startup, many of which contradict prevailing best practices. This is required reading.
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars
When we achieve success, we all over-value our own impact and severely underestimate the role of luck. Many people break rules, get lucky, and think they have the golden touch. But since we haven’t understand what actually produced results, it catches up and we lose it all. Success isn’t even really about finding ways to succeed, it’s about learning how not to lose. Once you have that foundation, you can figure out you own style to succeed. Highly recommended.
A fantastic account of what it took to turn Pixar into the company it is today. It’s also full of insights on how to manage a team. Highly recommended.
Essentials of Accounting
If you want to truly learn the details of accounting, this is a great book to start from. It’s actually a workbook where every point has you do an exercise which is great to completely absorb each concept. But if you’re looking for an overview of accounting or just need an explanation of high-level concepts, there’s much better books available.
An incredibly thorough book on changing your own behavior and psychology, by far the best I’ve found yet. You’ll also get plenty of ideas for how to help others change theirs. Highly recommended.
10 Days to Faster Reading
It includes come basic tips on how to read faster for slower readers. If you already read a a decent pace, this isn’t the book for you. It’s an introduction for speeding up your reading but doesn’t go into a lot of detail on speed reading.
This books commits every business book sin out there. First, the author claims that having a strong purpose to align the company is responsible for many of the greatest successes in the last century. This includes Ford, IBM, Microsoft, Warren Buffet, and others. No evidence is given for this. The author merely gives a basic summary and picks out anecdotal points that support his purpose theory. Additionally, the writing lacks structure and meanders quite a bit. Skip it.
The Path of Least Resistance
You’ll get a few good insights on creativity out of this book. But it goes on quite a few tangents that don’t add much value. It also can’t really decide what it wants to be as a book. It’s a mix of a guide on creativity, a self-help book, and lessons for a struggling artist. The lack of focus prevents it from being great.
Only the Paranoid Survive
An excellent first-hand account of what it takes to survive a wave of disruption in your industry. Intel was originally focused on RAM until it became a commodity and forced them to move into processors. Most companies don’t survive these kinds of transitions. First you need to let chaos reign a bit in your organization and begin experimenting with everything (not just new products but with every part of your organization). But as soon as you find a path to a new industry, you need to focus your team on that vision. This is also excellent advice for startups as they attempt to create a new industry or disrupt an old one.
The Year Without Pants
If you’re interested in how companies like Automattic work, you’ll enjoy the book. But having worked at KISSmetrics (which is about 50% remote) for over two years, I’m not as fascinated with day-to-day accounts of remote work as others might be. It was still great getting a first-hand account of Automattic since I have a great deal of respect for those guys. Also, I’ve never really liked Scott Berkun’s writing. This is the third book of his that I’ve read, I always finish them thinking that the book has so much more potential and never quite got there.
This is considered one of the core books on business strategy for a reason. It’s exceptionally thorough and I highly recommend it. After reading it, you’ll come away with a much deeper understanding of market fundamentals.
A solid overview of the benefits and costs of remote work (and why you should start doing it if you haven’t already). It’s a pretty short book so there isn’t much depth. You’ll still come across some good tactics for transitioning to remote work or negating the few costs. Having worked remotely for over 2 years, everything in the book describes remote work pretty accurately.
Great by Choice
A fantastic book on why some companies achieve extraordinary while other companies that start from the same place remain mediocre. Innovation and luck aren’t as influential as many think. Instead, it’s about obtaining consistent results over long periods of time, sticking to a set of operating principles, testing with minimal risk, going big only once you have empirical validation, and making sure that you don’t squander the luck you do get while being able to survive any back luck.
The Art of Learning
An exceptional book on learning and developing mastery. Also a great balance between frameworks and personal stories to help you retain the core principles. Highly recommended.
The Principles of Statistics
A deep dive into the fundamentals of statistics. But it’s pretty heavy on math. If you’re looking for an easier introduction to statistics, check out What is p-value Anyway? or Naked Statistics.
The Sales Bible
A collection of tactics for sales. The book is a string of tactical lists that cover random parts of the sales process, there’s no framework or system to piece it all together. If you’re going pretty deep into sales, you might find a few good tactics to use. But there are much better sales books out there.
The Oz Principle
Regardless of what happens or how much control you actually have, you need to take full responsibility for results and continually ask yourself “What else can I do?” Great piece of advice. The only problem is that this book is horribly written. It’s one of those books that could have been reduced to a 1000 word blog post without losing any value.
The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course
A solid overview on financial reports, it’s a good starting point if you don’t have a finance background.
Turning Numbers into Knowledge
A rudimentary overview of logic, analysis, and critical thinking. Skip it.
The Essential Drucker
You’ll see many references to Drucker’s work (for good reason) and this book includes key chapters from his many books.
Learning from the Future
A complete waste of time. Each chapter is written by a different author and each of them has a slightly different approach to scenario planning. So the entire book becomes disjointed, repetitive, and lacks any core frameworks that you can rely on. There’s also a complete lack of depth on anything. Skip it.
First, Break All the Rules
This is my blueprint on world-class management. If you manage or build teams, you absolutely need to read this book.
The Economist Numbers Guide
A complete waste of time. The book attempts to go as broad as possible and include countless topics. From significant figures to game theory, standard deviations, Monte Carlo simulations, financial projections, compounding interest, and everything in between. Because the scope is so broad, not a single topic gets the attention it really needs for you to walk away with any applicable lessons.
Seeing What’s Next
Clayton Christensen breaks down how to use the theories from The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution. The previous books focused heavily on developing theory but didn’t go into much depth on how to apply them. If you only read one of them, read this one. It’s the most succinct overview of everything and doesn’t assume you’ve read the first two. But I’d recommend reading all three so you can more integrate these concepts into your own perspective as deeply as possible.
Lead the Field
The only personal development book you’ll ever need. It also mirrors many of the principles I’ve been applying in my own life recently. Much of the book seems like common sense but few people take it to heart. If you do, you’ll have everything you ever wanted. There are no hacks, no tricks, and no shortcuts. Just a steady and reliable path to success. Highly recommended.
How to Read a Financial Report
A great intro to your three core financial reports: income statement, cash flow statement, and balance sheet. The book is concise, has plenty of depth, and is clearly written. So if you wan to learn more about finance, it’s a great place to start.
Making Sense of Behavior
An introduction to Perceptual Control Theory. Instead of assuming people attempt to control objective reality, we control our perceptions. When our perceptions are out of alignment with our expectations, we act to reduce the error. And higher levels of perception dictate the goals of lower systems which drive action at that level. Conflicts arise when people’s perceptions oppose one another and people have goals that cannot be met simultaneously. The only way to resolve problems is to move to a level where goals are being defined for those involved. Then the goals need to change so they’re no longer at odds.
Green to Gold
Probably the most poorly written and structured business I have yet to read. Even worse, it’s full of generic advice that’s nothing more than cliche platitudes. It’s repetitive and a complete waste of time. Which is a shame because building businesses within environmental constraints will become an increasingly important topic. But this book falls far short of providing any helpful guidance. Go out of your way to avoid this book.
Four Steps to the Epiphany
Definitely a classic of entrepreneurship. If you’re looking for the authoritative step-by-step framework for how to get a business off the ground, this is it.
How to Make Millions with Your Ideas
A collection of various business stories/lessons from Dan Kennedy’s career. But there’s no framework or system to pull them together, it’s just a list of random lessons. It’s an interesting read but not essential. If you’re a fan of Dan Kennedy, grab a copy. If not, skip it.
The metrics in this book are most useful to corporate marketers working at Fortune 500 consumer companies. There’s nothing here for startups or B2B. And the online section is laughable. It’s a good reference if you’re forced to use the corporate marketing metrics. Otherwise skip it.
Bankable Business Plans
If you need to write a business plan, this book outlines would you should include. But there’s little reason to read it otherwise.
The New Business Road Test
A decent framework for how to evaluate your new business idea before you start committing resources. But much of the book was redundant, it could have been cut by 75% without losing any depth. Many of it’s “case studies” loosely demonstrated lessons and were a bit reductionist. This should have just been a lengthy blog post.
The Partnership Charter
A great overview of everything you should keep in mind before entering a partnership. Not only should you sort through each issue, you should work with your partners and document your decisions in a partnership charter. This will avoid many of the potential pitfalls that partnerships fall into. If and when I enter one myself, I’ll definitely re-read this book.
A good overview of how to approach negotiations. While most of us focus on what happens during the negotiation itself, the biggest wins come from the preparation. Specifically, it’s critically important to identify the core interests of the other party, sequence the setup in your favor, and find agreements that increase the value for both parties (instead of getting stuck in a zero sum game).
It gives a high-level introduction to lean manufacturing and then goes into a lot of detail on a few case studies. Most importantly, the majority of work performed on most products doesn’t add any value that the customer cares about. So lean methods strip systems down to their core, eliminate all wasteful effort, and focus on getting materials to flow through the entire system exactly when they’re needed. Expediting and stored inventory are signs that your processes aren’t as efficient as they could be. This sounds obvious but it’s incredibly easy for internal processes to waste a great deal of time and effort. Lean processes and systems aren’t built by accident.
You Should Test That!
A very basic approach to conversion optimization, it didn’t get anywhere near the depth I was looking for.
Show Me the Numbers
A classic on how to design tables and graphs. If you regularly tell stories with data, you need to read this book. It’s a little heavy but well worth it.
Go It Alone
A fantastic book on what it takes to build a go-it-alone business as a solo-preneur. Instead of building a lifestytle business with minimal work commitments, this approach focuses on scalable systems, ruthless outsourcing, constantly experimenting, and keeping pace with markets/customers to build a business for yourself. This is exactly what I want to build.
Using freewriting to clarify your thoughts and produce better writing is a great idea and I’ll be experimenting with it more. But this book should have been reduced to a single blog post. Skip it.
Universal Principles of Design
125 design principles are covered in this book, each is given about 2 pages. So it’s an excellent overview of the field but it doesn’t go into enough depth on an single topic. You won’t finish it feeling like you’re a more capable designer, you’ll just be more familiar with random design concepts.
The Simplicity Survival Handbook
A few good tips but not a groundbreaking book even though the subject is critically important. In our careers, it’s easy to become overloaded and take on too many projects. You’ll need to be able to bring clarity to any issue, focus on the few goals that actually matter, and politely push back on extraneous tasks. This is another one of those tips that sound obvious but are easy to forget when you’re grinding it out.
The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan
This book outlines your main priorities when joining a new company as a senior leader. First, start meeting with key players BEFORE your official start date so you can hit the ground running on day run. Also define your burning imperative (a combination of vision, mission, values, and objectives) so your team knows exactly what to focus on. Then over-invest in a few projects that have a high priority to deliver early wins within the first 100 days. Simple? Yes. How many new leaders execute at this level? Not many.
What is p-value Anyway?
A solid introduction to statistics, p-values, regressions, and the most common mistakes made when working with data. If you’re looking to get a better understanding of statistics and you don’t have a deep background in quantitative fields, it’s a great book to start with.
A bland a generic approach to making decisions. Skip it.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
As we move into positions of leadership, small aspects of our personalities can severely limit how willing other people are to help us. And without the support of our team, we’ll only be able to go so far. Being a great manager/leader isn’t just about doing the right things, it’s also about avoiding the personality flaws that drive people away. This book covers the main faults that prevent people from achieving further success in their career and breaks down a strategy for how to implement long-term change. Highly recommended for anyone looking to become a better manager or team leader.
Escape from Cubicle Nation
A good book for people that haven’t been involved with startups, freelancing, or building their own projects. If you’re in the corporate world and think starting a business is terrifying, you’ll get some good encouragement from it. But everyone else can skip it.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Still a classic. A lot of the tactics in the book may seem logical but most people (including myself) don’t do them nearly as often as we should. Unlike other self-help books which are too generic to be helpful, this one gives plenty of tips that you can put to good use.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Easily one of the classics of entrepreneurial theory, definitely up there with The Innovator’s Dilemma. Drucker breaks down the main sources for innovation, strategies for exploiting them, and best practices for managing a new venture. Highly recommends, I’m actually surprised this book doesn’t get referenced more often.
The Unwritten Laws of Business
And excellent and short overview of the key principles that should guide your day-to-day behavior in the workplace. I completely agree with each law in this book.
The Creative Habit
Plenty of practical tips on how to faster a life of creativity and obtain mastery of your field. Twyla Tharp is a renowned dance choreographer and breaks down the most important lessons she’s learned throughout her career. All of these lessons are just as relevant to business.
Getting Things Done
A pretty solid approach to productivity. The system breaks down into a few key steps. First, get every to-do, project, and commitment written down. No exceptions. As you document each task, define the next action step that needs to be taken in order to move it forward. This needs to be done upfront. At daily and weekly intervals, review your tasks. The book goes into a lot more detail and outlines a specific system for how to execute on this. While I won’t be implementing these principles in the exact way they’re outlined in the book, it’s one of the only approaches to productivity that I’ve been excited to implement.
The Innovator’s Solution
A absolutely phenomenal book. Whereas The Innovator’s Dilemma goes into great detail on the theory behind market disruption, The Innovator’s Solution outlines a process for harnessing disruption. Not only can you use this book to build a new disruptive company, you’ll learn how to build a disruptive growth machine at an established corporation.
Ethics for the Real World
Probably the worst book on this list. Their ethical framework boils down to this: develop your ethical code and practice adhering to it. Seriously, that’s as deep as it gets. Even worse, the writing is awful. There’s no structure to the book, endless tangents, and logical errors with every point. Avoid reading this book at all costs.
By far the best book I’ve read on how to tell an amazing story. It’s actually targeted to screenwriters but anyone trying to communicate effectively will get a ton of value from it. Why stories? We communicate in stories and the best marketing uses them to persuade markets. Countless marketers tell you that you need to tell a story. But very few of them understand how to actually do it. This book will show you how.
Blue Ocean Strategy
Most companies focus on competing directly in their market in a zero-sum game. These are red oceans. Instead, companies should focus on creating new markets that don’t have any competitors, blue oceans. Plenty of great frameworks to help you think through the strategy of your own company and create blue oceans.
2013 – 50 Total
Work the System
A decent primer on how to apply systems-thinking in management. Use tools to automate any process you can and use documentation for everything else. Employees should be expected to follow documentation exactly (no exceptions). And to avoid bureaucratic traps, make sure you can update documentation immediately whenever an improvement is decided on. But the book repeats itself a lot while wondering into all sorts of tangents. This could have been a business classic but it’s not quite there even after the third edition.
The book is just a series of tips for each stage of the hiring process. You’ll pick up a few good one’s but there’s nothing earth-shattering here.
So this isn’t really a book. When you purchase it, you get an access code to an online test that tells you what your top 5 strengths are. The book is just a description of each possible strength. Once you know what yours are, you can read a few pages on each one. It’s pretty accurate and is a good way to validate your own assumptions about where you excel. I do wish that the action items on how to capitalize on your strengths went into more detail. It also doesn’t go into any detail on what kind of career paths would be a good fit for your combination of strengths. You’re left to figure that out on your own.
Save the Cat!
If you’re looking to get a better understanding for how to write great stories, you should take lessons from screenwriters. And this is one of the more popular screenwriting books at the moment. It breaks down the ideal formula for any movie (and any story for that matter) which also explains why Hollywood movies seem identical. They follow the same formula.
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
Another great book by Dan Ariely. Basically, very few people take full advantage of any given situation and attempt to cheat to the maximum possible degree. But we all cheat a little bit when the situation presents itself. This allows us tip the scales while still believing that we’re fundamentally good people. While there are a few people that attempt to take full advantage of others, most damage is done in aggregate from us all cheating a little bit.
Diffusion of Innovations
This is one of the core textbooks in the field of diffusion research. Many innovation frameworks from tech come from Everett Rogers’ work and this book. Early adopters vs laggards, the adoption curve, and the importance of opinion leaders all come from here. It’s definitely a classic, be sure to pick it up if you’re looking for a fundamental understanding of how innovations spread. Most importantly, marketing is rarely responsible for driving innovation. It’s great at getting the initial attention of innovators and early adopters. But after that, continued adoption of your innovation will depend heavily on word-of-mouth.
A great introduction to statistics that covers the main concepts you’ll encounter without getting too technical. If you’re working with data and come from a business background (instead of a stats background), definitely pick up this book.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street
Since it’s not possible to beat the market over long periods of time, the most reliable returns come from a diversified portfolio of index funds. While it is possible to beat the market marginally, taxes and brokerage fees will quickly consume any of your gains. This advice is in a lot of personal investing books. It’s a good book to start with and one of the classics in the field.
The Halo Effect
An amazing book which lists the most common ways that people use data incorrectly in management. Not only do managers make these mistakes, many of the most popular business books make them too. Easily one of the most insightful books I’ve read this year.
Some good insights here and there. But the book gives a broad overview of business as a whole and ends up not going into much depth on anything. A good introduction to business but definitely not an essential read.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
An excellent framework for approaching strategy. First start by diagnosing your primary problem, then put together your overall direction, then define the actions that you’ll take to get yourself there. It sounds simple but very people put together a coherent strategy that includes each element.
Sources of Power
An excellent book on how experts make effective decisions. Contrary to popular opinion, very few people use rational systems for decision. Instead, people recognize patterns, rotate through options until they find a good fit, and use instinct for the most part. And for the most part, the quality of decisions are high for experts. But the only way to become an expert is to spend a great deal of time in a given field. Step-by-step decision frameworks work better for novices because they haven’t built a deep source of experience to pull patterns from.
Why We Buy
If you’re in retail, you’ll find plenty of ideas for optimizing your store. But online marketers won’t gain much from this book. It’s interesting but not essential.
More of a shelf-help book than a leadership one. And a superficial one at that. Skip it.
Definitely a business classic. The main take-home is that the components of a system cannot be improved in isolation. Every system has a few key bottle-necks that completely determine the output of the system as a whole. Even if it means making other components inefficient, you should do everything in your power to reduce the constraints from these bottle-necks.
Growing Great Employees
A fairly superficial introduction to management. There’s a few good insights like giving candidates scenarios during interviews but there isn’t much depth overall. You can safely skip it.
A detailed and well-researched dive into the data problems of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a pretty damning report of how flawed drug testing is. There’s also fascinating insights into how many ways data can get manipulated (ending drug trials early, a psychological bias to publish statistically significant results more frequently, conflicts of interest from corporate funding, using ideal patients in trials, etc).
A former VP of Sales from Salesforce explains how they got to their first $100 million in sales. I highly recommend anyone at a startup with a sales team read this book. And if you’re a SaaS company with a sales team, this is required reading. Stop what you’re doing and grab a copy right now.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
An interesting book an neurological disorders but I wouldn’t consider it essential reading.
Growth Hacker Marketing
This is a short and basic intro to growth hacking. If you don’t have a good idea of what the field is all about or how it differs from traditional marketing, this is a good way to get up to speed. But if you’re already in the trenches, it’s not going to teach you anything you don’t already know.
Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing
This is a very basic intro to direct response marketing. There are much better books out there like Breakthrough Advertising, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, Scientific Advertising, and Tested Advertising Methods. And the sections on digital marketing are very weak. Skip it.
Stumbling on Happiness
A great overview of the flaws in our psychology that keep us from accurately predicting our own happiness. Both our imaginations and our memories consistently lead us astray. In fact, the only way to judge if a decision will make you happier is to ask someone else how they currently feel having made the same decision.
Online Marketing Simulations
A short and great guide to the type of analysis you should be doing on your marketing channels. Measuring conversion rates and revenue generated is not enough. You need to know which channels produce the best customers over the long term, which product categories match the best for those channels, and how channel/merchandise behavior changes with the customer lifecycle. The book even includes a sample Excel doc and the code you’d need to run this analysis on your own customer database.
Making Things Happen
A good intro book to project management but isn’t groundbreaking. Scott Berkun has a tendency to talk about everything without being able to focus on specific points. So you come away with random tidbits and tactics that may help you in random places. But there isn’t anything that will completely change the way you manage projects.
12: The Elements of Great Managing
This is a perfect introduction to management. If you’re about to step into a leadership role for the first time, I highly recommend this book. It’ll give you a much better understanding of what your responsibilities and day-to-day will be like.
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto
The story of how one of the most successful video game developers came to be. Always fascinating to see where an industry-changing company came from and how it overcame challenges while growing.
Who: The A Method for Hiring
A straight-forward process for hiring people that greatly increases your success. Considering how important recruiting is for any business, the last thing you want to do is guess your way through it.
A great followup to Positioning and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Depending on your position in your market, you’ll need to execute a marketing strategy of defense, an offensive attack on the leader, flank the leader’s position, or use a guerrilla strategy. But the book could probably get condensed into a lengthy blog post without sacrificing any depth.
A pretty superficial overview of the triggers that make a brand more fascinating. Skip it.
If you want to do any consulting, you absolutely must read this book. It also covers my favorite approach to pricing. While it is possible to build a very successful business that competes on price, I would much rather build a business that competes on value and prices accordingly.
Most systems that we design are fragile. When volatility occurs (and it always occurs more frequently than we think it will), they fail. The economy, most people’s careers, nations, etc are all fragile. You’ll do much better if you build systems that actually benefit from volatility. These systems are antifragile. Highly recommended.
The Black Swan
An absolutely essential book to understanding probability and uncertainty. Everything of consequence is the result of completely unpredictable events, black swans. You can’t control them and you can’t predict them. If you want to build a successful business, you’ll need to understand the difference between bell curves and long tails. Most of our lives are spent in the long tail.
The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing
A complete waste of time. Not only is it an incredibly superficial overview of email marketing, there aren’t any helpful frameworks, tactics, or processes. Most of the content of the book consists of “This company used this email campaign, you could too! Or don’t, it might not work. Do what’s right for your business!”
If you want to make yourself or your organization happier, it’s best to spend money on experiences, to buy time, to pay now while consuming later, and to invest in others. Focusing solely on yourself and material things won’t bring you the same amount of happiness. A great, quick read.
An even better book on brand positioning than The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Stop whatever you’re doing and read this book right now. If you don’t, you’ll get crushed by someone who did.
The Master Switch
A fantastic dive into the history of information industries (the telegraph, phones, television, radio, and now the internet). As each new industry grows, corporations eventually consolidate their power and severely restrict what’s available. And without proper safeguards, someone’s bound to bring the internet under their control. While I definitely agree that there is an opportunity for a company to dominate the internet and sacrifice it’s flexibility in the name of profit, Tim Wu has simplified his reading of history a bit too much. For example, he lumps Hollywood in with theses other industries but neglects industries like book publishing, newspapers, and music. He also pits Apple as the domineering tech company against the “open” philosophy of Google. Even though Google has a reputation of being “open,” many of their industry practices are very closed (search for example). So it’s a great overview of the telecommunications industries but I’m not 100% sold on all of his conclusions. That being said, most industries tend to consolidate as they age, there’s no reason we should expect otherwise when it comes to the internet.
The Signal and the Noise
It’s incredibly easy to find patterns in the noise of our data instead of finding the signal that can actually help us predict likely outcomes. This is why most predictions fail. They pick up on patterns that are simply random correlations. The only way to improve our predictions is to turn our models into hypotheses, make predictions based on those models, and refine them over time as we gain new evidence. And you’ll never be able to eliminate uncertainty, all outcomes are subject to a degree of variance. In fact, making over-confident predictions is one of the primary ways that predictions fail. Highly recommended.
Myths of Innovation
This book is a collection of essays on innovation. It’s a great introduction to the topic but lacks depth.
Playing to Win
I haven’t gone that deep into high-level business strategy but the framework in this book looks solid. Clear, concise, flexible, and has a clear path for implementation. If you’re responsible for the major decisions of your company (what markets to pursue and how to do it), definitely grab this book.
This is a fantastic book for understanding the mindset behind using metrics to measure progress in a startup or small-to-medium business. You’ll get a lot of value from it if you haven’t already spent much time with analytics or the lean startup methodology. If you have experience in both, you’ll probably find a lot of the book to be review.
Results Without Authority
If you’re a project manager in a large company with plenty of bureaucracy, this book will give you some ideas for how to move your project forward. For smaller teams, skip it.
The Talent Code
Talent isn’t the result of some innate quality. It comes from have spent countless hours refining a skill in deep practice. When we practice, we strengthen the myelin of our brain which increases the speed of our thoughts and actions. This is where the 10,000 hour rule comes from (spending 10,000 hours doing something will make you a master at it). But not all practice is the same. We need to take on new challenges and make mistakes in order to keep growing. And having great coaches and a source of passion can help us stay on track over the long term.
The Social Animal
This is one of the most well-respected books in social psychology. And it gives an amazing overview of the most influential studies from the field. Since business is fundamentally about people, you absolutely need to read this book. It may be a text book but it’s a relatively easy read compared to others.
One of the single best books on copy and marketing. Period. Many consider this to be THE book on copy and it lives up to its reputation. It can be pretty hard to find but you need to get your hands on it.
The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing
This is a conventional business text book written for managers at large companies. It’s pretty dense and you’ll need to pick out the few key insights if you’re working at small or medium-sized company. Most people can safely skip it.
The Challenger Sale
Possibly one of the most important books in sales and is my new favorite book in the field. Most experienced sales reps execute a sale by digging into the needs of a client with open ended questions. Then they personalize the offer and explain how the product meets their needs. But this standard process is no longer the most effective approach. Instead, reps should be teaching insights that clients were previously unaware of. Then the product is positioned as the solution.
Age of Propaganda
Great overview of many studies on persuasion. There’s plenty of great insights that you’ll be able to apply to your own marketing. But the recommendations on policy to make the public more resistant to propaganda are pretty weak.
If you’re planning on raising a round of funding for your startup, you absolutely need to read this book. There’s no better resource that will walk you through how to close a deal with a VC. And make sure you pick up the second edition.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The most common piece of career advice is to “follow your passion.” But this is a terrible idea. People that try to follow their passion end up bouncing from job-to-job feeling unfulfilled. Genuine passion only comes AFTER you’ve gotten incredibly good at something. If you want to lead an amazing career that you love, your best bet is to put in the time and build a deep skill-set in an area that others find incredibly valuable. The passion will follow. This is the best framework for building a career that I’ve found yet. Highly recommended.
The Long Tail
The past half century was dominated by hits. Hit songs, books, movies, and businesses. Because of the cost required to ship and provide products, it only made sense to provide products that everyone would like (even if they didn’t love it). Now that the internet has radically reduced those costs, incredibly obscure products can turn a profit. Serving the long tail has now become a viable business model. This book is required reading for any entrepreneur, especially if you’re in tech.
2012 – 68 Total
Sell More Software
This is a collection of blog posts from Patrick McKenzie. He puts out top-notch stuff and I highly recommend you follow his blog. But for the most part, there isn’t much in this book that you won’t find after an afternoon on his blog. And if you’ve been following him awhile, you’ll recognize many of the blog posts.
A solid intro to the App Store and what you’ll need to focus on in order to generate revenue from your app. I might be doing some mobile marketing in the future and I now have a list of tactics to use. But this is definitely a short, intro book. Don’t expect a deep dive into marketing, app development, or mobile marketing.
The 48 Laws of Power
Each law is covered in depth and includes a summary of the law, historical examples of the law being used successfully, examples of when it wasn’t used, a detailed breakdown for how the law works, and a an explanation on when you shouldn’t follow the law. The entire book follows a fairly rigid structure and gets a little dry by the end. And while I don’t necessarily agree with all the laws, you should be following many of them if you want to succeed.
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
A classic book on copywriting written by one of the masters, Joseph Sugarman. Copies can be a little hard to find but I highly recommend you pick one up. His style isn’t as formulaic as others. Most of his ads start off with a curiosity hook which plays into a story. Once you’re hooked into the ad, he covers the benefits, features, price, and guarantee to get you to purchase. I’ll definitely be playing with this approach more.
Hillstrom’s Email Marketing Excellence
This is the single best book on analytics I’ve ever read. And there’s no better resource for learning how to calculate the value of your email marketing. Seriously, these frameworks are decades ahead of the analytics industry and will show you how to find the actual ROI of your marketing. It’s a super quick read so grab it right now.
The Thank You Economy
If you’re completely new to this social media thing, you should read this book. But if you’re not, most of this book will tell you what you already know. And if you’re seen several of Gary’s keynotes (which you should definitely check out), there’s little reason to pick this book up.
Advanced Google AdWords
Despite the title, this book is more of an introduction to how AdWords works. There are plenty of topics that Geddes doesn’t get into like how to get a free advertising grant from Google for non-profits or how to deal with product categories that have restrictions on them (like gambling). If you’re just getting into AdWords, this is the most authoritative book on the subject but it doesn’t get as advanced as you hope it will. And if you want to get the AdWords cert, this will serve as a great study-guide.
How Will You Measure Your Life?
Good but not great. Clayton Christensen and the co-authors use several business theories to demonstrate how to live a more fulfilling life. The subject of his advice is split equally between business, the individual, and the family. Even though there’s a few great insights, there just isn’t enough depth.
Fantastic book. In American culture, we idolize the extrovert. But many of us are introverts and have very different temperaments. Instead of gaining energy from people, introverts gain energy by being alone. And in order to be happy, they’ll need to structure their lives and careers completely differently. Even if you’re not an introvert, I highly recommend you read this book. It will help you immensely when working with you colleagues and understanding your own strengths. If you’re wondering, I’m very much an introvert.
Carrots and sticks are not the best way to motivate people. You’ll increase short term motivation at the cost of killing long term motivation and reducing creativity. Only pursue this strategy if your employees have mundane and repetitive jobs. To truly motivate people, we need to focus on providing autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Even if you’re not a hiring manager, you should still read this book to better understand what kind of environments will keep you motivated.
We are not the perfectly rational people that the field of economics assumes we are. Price, free stuff, ownership, and expectations have a massive impact on our decisions. Since understanding the irrationality of markets is essential to building a business, you should definitely read this book.
Secrets of Consulting
You’ll find a series of stories and “laws” of consulting within this book. There’s a few good anecdotes but most of the book is just okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
All Marketers Are Liars
This is a great introduction to the field of marketing. Highly recommended for beginners. But if you’ve been in the field for awhile and are familiar with Seth Godin’s work, you’ll probably find the majority of the book to be common sense.
It covers a number of companies that excel at customer service and presents 5 elements that every indispensable company has. But Calloway doesn’t provide a structured process for how to implement these same behaviors in your own company. He attempts to explain how the responsibility for figuring this out is on the reader. This is sloppy thinking on his part and is a serious weakness of the book. Skip it.
This book is a great overview of all the psych studies on how people approach price, value, and make decisions. But it’s not ideal for marketers that have to apply these principles. The book has zero structure since it’s broken into 50-some chapters, each featuring a different study. Because of this, the concepts are fragmented and it’ll take some work to synthesis everything from the book. It could have been a fantastic book but it falls short.
Trust Me, I’m Lying
There’s no better place to understand the economics, business models, and motivations behind blogs. If you spend much time building blogs or trying to get featured on them, you need to read this book.
Lead Generation for the Complex Sale
If you’re completely new to the world of sales and marketing, you might find this book useful. But I found it pretty redundant. If I were you, I would skip it. There are much better resources for learning how to do B2B marketing.
This is probably the single best book I’ll ever read on how to pitch. Even though you shouldn’t force a pitch unless you have to (building relationships and looking for deep understanding will take you much further), they’re unavoidable in some circumstances. Before you reach for Power Point or Keynote, make sure you grab this book.
The Art of the Start
This is a great introduction to entrepreneurship. But if you’re already familiar with the lean startup movement, basic principles of product development, and want to dive deep into specific topics to build out your skill set, this probably isn’t the book for you.
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
This is a great crash course in the lean startup movement. It focuses on showing you how to validate your business idea as fast as possible. While it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, I was hoping for more detail on how to run customer interviews at different stages of a startup.
The Power of Full Engagement
Most of us measure our productivity by the number of hours we put in. But time is not the best way to measure our output. Instead we should measure our energy levels and make sure that we’re fully engaged while working. As our energy levels start to drop, we need to seek ways to renew that energy and recover. If you want to perform among the best in your field, the key is to balance energy expenditure and recovery through daily rituals.
Work Less, Work More
If you save up enough cash and invest properly, it’s possible to live off your capital gains and retire far earlier than most. It’s an interesting concept but the book was a bit repetitive.
Your Money or Your Life
This book was a complete waste of my time. It focuses on some pretty basic philosophies on how to approach money and doesn’t give much in the way of practical advice. If you’re looking for a solid system to approach your money, I highly recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich over this book.
There are four drives that were fundamental to the development of human progress, culture, and nature: the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn, and the drive to protect. Satisfying these drives is critical to both personal happiness and organizational effectiveness. But the authors rely on a synthesis of other academic work and some overly simplified case studies to build their theory. I’d love to see more empirical results before fully supporting this framework.
While this book goes into detail on how our minds are tricked into overeating, it’s a great resource for understanding the mental tricks that we’re susceptible to. One of the most important skill sets for a marketer is understanding how people think. And you’ll find plenty of examples here.
It’s Not About the Money
By applying a meditation-based approach to money, it’s possible to alleviate anxiety about money for good. But the book was a little too new-age for me. It does cover 8 ways people approach money. Understanding those 8 types and knowing your own financial biases (and the types of your closest friends and family) more than make up for the other shortfalls in the book.
Recommends splitting your portfolio equally between stocks, bonds, gold, and cash. This diversification brings in 9-10% returns annually regardless of the economic climate (recession, inflation, deflation, etc). It’s also one of the simplest strategies to setup and follow. I definitely recommend it.
I was really hoping for a lot more. There’s a few good insights but there’s also a lot of bad advice, especially with the online marketing recommendations. If you understand the importance of churn, lifetime value, and you know how to use basic financial metrics, there’s no reason to pick up this book.
Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs
This is an excellent crash course on how to use finance in a small, growing business. Finance may not be the most exciting topic but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t know how to apply basic financial skills to your business.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Even if you do everything right and manage your company exceptionally well, disruptive innovation can still blindside you. If you have a successful company and want to keep pace with your market (or you want to exploit one), definitely pick this book up. On of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
The Psychology of Selling
Probably the best introduction to sales that I’ve found yet. If you need a crash course on how to sell-effectively, this is the perfect place to start.
If you’re looking to improve your personal or profession relationships, this is a must-read. Some of our conversations are pivotal in our relationships. If we don’t handle them properly, many people will shut us out and avoid working with us. Use these frameworks to build open and trusting relationships with those around you.
How to Lie With Statistics
Numbers easily lie. Learn how to spot statistics that don’t have any validity so you know when to trust the numbers and when to ignore them. A quick read and highly recommended.
Another Seth Godin classic. If you’re looking for a step-by-step manual on how to be a leader, you won’t find it here. But it will get you in the right mindset and give you plenty of nuggets to start working from.
Thinking in Systems
Flows, stocks, and feedback loops control how a system functions and what it produces. This book is an excellent introduction to systems thinking and I highly recommend it if you’re trying to build anything (like a business for instance).
There’s a few good insights on how to manage email and information. But for the most part, most of the suggestions are pretty obvious. Skip it.
If you’re building a company and committed to getting the culture right, you need to read this book.
The Power of Less
The most effective way to become more productive is to do less. Cut out the nonessential and focus exclusively on the projects that truly matter. This applies to both business and life. Not only will you be more productive, you’ll also be happier.
A great introduction to how to build a presentation that your audience will actually enjoy.
Bargaining for Advantage
An excellent book on negotiating. A required read for anyone in business.
The Paradox of Choice
More choice doesn’t always lead to happiness. Instead of seeking to maximize the value from each decision, focus on choosing what’s good enough. Then move on with your life. You should also limit the choices your customers have, they’ll have an easier time finding the best option.
This covers the positioning concepts of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by the same authors but with more depth. Choosing the position of your brand/product is the most important decision you’ll make. I highly recommend both.
Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!
Great book for learning how to focus on the key financial metrics of your business. If you don’t have a super clear idea of what your financial goals are (and how to get there), read this book.
Business Analytics for Managers
If you have a data warehouse, a full-time business analyst, and you’ve been tasked for how to build a data-driven company, get this book. Otherwise, you should skip it.
Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
This is the single best book on Google Analytics out there right now. If your business depends on Google Analytics for your KPIs (key metrics), grab this book.
Don’t Make Me Think
This is a classic of web design/web marketing and is referenced frequently.
Presenting to Win
Fantastic book on how to put together a sales deck or PowerPoint presentation.
Web Analytics 2.0
A classic in web analytics, definitely pick it up if you’re measuring your business online.
The Ultimate Webinar Marketing Guide
Webinars do an incredible job at converting prospects into customers. This book will tell you EXACTLY how to do them. Highly recommended.
Covers a few key pitfalls that people run into when analyzing numbers. It’s good but not great.
The Millionaire Next Door
If someone looks like a millionaire, they’re probably racked with debt. Most millionaires ruthlessly cut personal expenses.
Ready, Fire, Aim
This book tells you exactly how to build a business from $0 to $50 million. There are 4 stages of business growth and each has a single priority: sales, product development, organization, and defining your role. Essential reading for every entrepreneur.
How We Decide
Great explanations for how the mind works. If you’re just starting to explore psychology, this is the perfect place to start.
David Ogilvy (the author) is one of the most successful advertising executives. Ever. He’s even called the “father of advertising.” This books covers the lessons he learned after working with many of the largest corporations and producing some of the most well-known ads to date.
The 1% Windfall
A complete guide to pricing strategy. But it won’t tell you how to determine the perfect price, it explains how to provide different prices to different people. You’ll get the most value from this framework if you have a medium or large-size business.
Tested Advertising Methods
By far the single best book on copywriting. Reading this will give you an instant edge in everything you do.
I’m a huge Gary Vaynerchuck fan but this book didn’t have the depth I was hoping for. It explains how to start building a business with social media but doesn’t give a reliable step-by-step process. Instead of providing a strategy, it focuses on encouragement. Skip it and watch Gary’s keynote speeches, they have a ton of insights.
Zappos doesn’t spend any money of marketing, they focus exclusively on customer service. If you want to take that approach, read this book to learn how Zappos got started.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea why this book is so widely read. Skip it.
More Money Than God
An in-depth history of hedge funds. Definitely interesting but won’t directly apply to most businesses.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
A good overview of game theory but not as good as it could have been.
Smashing Book #2
Better than the first but still not that great.
Smashing Book #1
Too much detail in some chapters, not nearly enough in others. It’s basically a series of long blog posts.
Web Analytics: An Hour a Day
While much the this book has become dated, there’s still plenty of useful insights. You’ll get the most use from it if you’re a mid-size to large company.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Incredibly detailed book on how we think. This should be required reading for anyone in business.
After studying the best sales professionals, this book breaks down their process step-by-step. This is your manual for sales. Learn it by heart.
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got
Looking for a great overview of everything that marketing entails? Start here.
Good to Great
This is your step-by-stop guide for how to turn an average organization into one that defines an industry. Highly recommended.
2011 – 39 Total
Everything Is Obvious
Everything seems obvious after the fact which makes us think we can accurately predict the future. We can’t. Focus on predicting the short term and building systems that can quickly adapt to shifting markets.
Getting Started in Consulting
Breaks down the process of starting a consultancy/freelance business and does a fantastic job.
Accounting Made Simple
A super brief intro to accounting. If you hate numbers, this is a great resource to get your feet wet. If you want to get serious with accounting, you’ll be left disappointed.
Working for Yourself
All the gritty legal and accounting details required for a business that’s a one-man-shop.
Marketing without data is silly. Don’t do it.
Read This Before Our Next Meeting
Best tactical advice out there on how to run a meeting.
The Ultimate Sales Machine
If you’re trying to build a sales team, you need to read this book.
A few good insights on what persuades us to buy. But there are better books on the subject.
Complete Web Monitoring
Unfocused and only a few usable insights, I don’t recommend it.
The War of Art
The act of creation can be a brutal process. This book will help you keep moving forward.
We Are All Weird
Mass markets are fragmenting into countless niche markets. There is no more “normal” so embrace the weird and you will profit.
Anything You Want
Derek Sivers (the author) built an incredibly successful business, CD Baby. This book details the lessons he learned along the way.
Do the Work
This is a followup to The War of Art and goes into more depth on the Resistance (the impulse to procrastinate). Your sole objective each and every day is to defeat the Resistance and keep moving towards your goals.
If you have experience with social media, blogs, and internet marketing, you’ll find this book to be very basic. If you’re just getting into internet marketing and need a book to get you started, definitely pick it up.
Made to Stick
Some ideas spread, others don’t. Learn how to make sure your idea is one that spreads, highly recommended.
A quick read with plenty of amazing insight from the founders of 37 Signals. Highly recommended.
The Education of Millionaires
Many millionaire’s never went to college (or high school) and built successful businesses from scratch. This book covers many of their stories and pulls out lessons to apply to your own business.
12 rules for how your brain works. This book will make you more productive and help you communicate better.
The Ultimate Sales Letter
A classic copywriting book. It covers direct mail sales letters at length but there’s plenty of insights for email, landing pages, or any other marketing material that you depend on.
Most marketering attempts to interrupt. But marketing becomes far more powerful when we’ve gained the trust and permission of our prospects.
Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness
Plenty of interesting data but nothing earth-shattering.
The Culture Code
Based on the culture you’re from, you will have deep, emotional reactions to certain messages. If you want your business to succeed, you must tap into the culture codes of your target market. Plenty of US culture codes are discussed in the book.
Launch fast, launch often. You can never get market feedback fast enough and your primary goal is to test all the critical assumptions in your business model. Required reading.
The 80/20 Principle
Most of what you do doesn’t help you. All of your results comes from a fraction of your efforts. Learn how to focus your energy to radically improve the effectiveness of your business. This should be required reading for everyone.
The Design of Everyday Things
Design is not about winning awards. It’s about simplifying people’s lives. Do not discard functionality for aesthetics.
This was the best intro to Google Analytics out there but with the launch of Google Analytics v5, it became a bit dated.
On Writing Well
Remember all those writing rules you learned in high school and college? Forget them. They do you more harm than good. Use this book to actually learn how to write effectively.
This is a marketing classic. Read it, pontificate, then read it two more times. It’s your marketing bible.
A great resource for anyone just getting into copywriting.
Details matter, a lot. Because most people automatically pick the default option for any choice, we must take great care in presenting solutions and building systems.
Want a complete crash course on business? Start here.
Build personas first, THEN optimize your site. With the sheer volume of potential optimization tests you could run, you need a persona to guide you.
Bird by Bird
This book speaks directly to writers but if you do most of your work on you own will, it’ll help you keep moving forward.
The Effective Executive
A business book classic, highly recommended.
I Will Teach You to Be Rich
One of the best personal finance books out there. Use it to automate your finances so you can focus on your business.
Markets change so fast and are now so complex that you can’t systemize an entire business. You need linchpins to keep pace. This book will tell you how to be one.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Over time, all markets consolidate into 2-3 players. And the largest is usually the first. If you’re not first, make sure you know what you’re doing.
The 4 Hour Workweek
Instead of pursuing relentless growth, entrepreneurs have the option to build a lifestyle business. With outsourcing, 80/20 analysis, and batching, this is your guide for how to do it.
Start With Why
I would add one stipulation to the concept of this book: don’t start with your “why,” start with the “why” of your customers.